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Saudi Crown Prince MBS' Whirlwind Regional Tour Reflects Preparations for Biden Visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara, June 22, 2022.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara, June 22, 2022.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was feted as a visiting head of state during talks in both Turkey and Jordan Wednesday, along with Egypt a day earlier.

In Cairo, he met top Egyptian leaders and inked $7.7 billion in 14 separate trade deals. Saudi Arabia is also a top investor in Jordan and the visit strengthened that position.

MBS' regional visit had been expected for a while, but its exact timing may be tied to the shaky health of his 86-year-old father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Visits to Jordan and Turkey reflect both business and political relations between Riyadh and the two key regional states. Analysts say ties with Iran, the situation in Yemen and regional defense issues were part of the discussions. A visit to Iraq appears to have been postponed because of political uncertainty in the country and the inability to form a new government.

Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek tells VOA that MBS' visit has been in the works for a while, and it comes a month before Biden's trip to the region and amid growing worries over Iran's nuclear capabilities:

"MBS wants to have an air-defense umbrella to besiege Iran and put a lot of pressure on Iran … to show the Iranians we can have a military option, [and this] will involve the six Gulf States, Jordan, Egypt and Israel … because of the Biden visit, the regional leaders had to make several visits to see where we stand. So, there's a lot of diplomatic activity to arrange and prepare a unified stance when Biden comes to the area."

Sadek adds that Riyadh is expected to tighten ties with Israel in private and the air defense agreement is part of the strategy, although it is unlikely to have any public exchange of diplomatic relations.

Egypt, he asserts, is being enticed to participate in the umbrella, albeit — he thinks — in a private, unofficial way. The Gulf States, he notes, are likely to increase energy sales to the U.S. as a part of Biden's upcoming visit.

Khatter Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA that bin Salman's regional trip "is one more milestone on the road to becoming king [of Saudi Arabia]," and that he is positioning himself as a top leader in an increasingly strong Arab bloc:

He says is important for the Arab states to have a common position regarding the key issues of the day, including the Iranian situation, Palestine and the stance of Arab states toward the U.S., not to mention the fact the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has introduced even more issues into Arab-U.S. relations.

MBS’ visit to Turkey follows a recent visit by Turkish President Erdogan to Riyadh, according to Khatter Abou Diab, and indicates that "Ankara has buried the hatchet over the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and is now mostly interested in improving economic ties with Saudi Arabia.